HPV and Pregnancy

A woman can be a carrier of the HPV virus without showing symptoms. In fact, she can be infected without knowing that she has the virus. During pregnancy, the greatest danger to the mother-to-be and unborn baby is when the HPV shows symptoms as genital warts. This is called a clinical genital HPV infection.

Part of the reason why clinical genital HPV infections are especially dangerous during pregnancy is because when a woman is pregnant, her body's immune system is naturally suppressed. A suppressed immune system means the woman becomes more vulnerable to infections in general. If clinical genital HPV shows up in a pregnant woman, the genital warts tend to be more numerous and bigger because her body can't as effectively fight off the HPV strains as she would have been able to prior to her pregnancy.

Wart Size and Vaginal Deliveries

The genital warts in a pregnant woman can get so big that vaginal birth is made impossible because the warts are completely blocking the birth canal. If this happens, the baby is usually delivered by caesarean section. If a woman with such large warts were to have a vaginal delivery, significant bleeding could occur from the pressure of the baby's head on the warts as the baby traveled down the birth canal. This bleeding could put the mother's life at risk and also increases the chances of the baby becoming infected with the HPV virus.

Women with small genital warts can often have a vaginal delivery safely because the risk of bleeding is low. Most research shows that the chance of the baby getting the virus during delivery is very low. Some statistics say the numbers are negligible at 0.04 percent.

What Happens If the Baby Becomes Infected?

While many mothers with HPV go on to carry and give birth to uninfected, healthy infants, there is always the chance that the virus could be transmitted from mother to child. Some tests show that the virus can appear in the amniotic fluid although genital warts can't be transmitted from the mother's blood to her unborn child. It can be spread during the birthing process.

If the baby becomes infected while passing through the birth canal, he or show gets an HPV infection called laryngeal papillomatosis.

Laryngeal papillomatosis is sometimes also known as glottal papillomatosis or recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says that the condition is so rare that it only affects 4.5 out of 100, 000 children in the United States. It's rare, but the condition can be fatal if the tumors or papillomas become uncontrolled and block the airway causing the child to suffocate to death.

Symptoms of the condition in babies or young children show up as noisy breathing, a weak cry, chronic cough or trouble swallowing. If breathing sounds like a whistle or a snore or it could be sign that the laryngeal or tracheal parts are beginning to narrow.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Laryngeal Papillomatosis

To diagnose, the physician places a mirror in the child's mouth and reflects a light onto the vocal cords to examine the larynx. For a more definitive diagnosis a trained speech-language pathologist may place a flexible fiber optic camera through the patient's nose to view the folds of the throat. Sometimes a biopsy is conducted under general anesthesia to test the lesion for HPV.

For the safety of the child, the obstruction needs to be removed immediately. This can be done with traditional surgery where the growths are manually cut out. Another option is basically burning the growths away with carbon dioxide. Antiviral drugs are also sometimes used.